Melissa Weast washes Roz, her sow breeding stock pig, at her farm in Central Point on Wednesday. - Jamie Lusch

Swine are safe, says breeder

CENTRAL POINT — Fears over swine flu have swept the land, and local hog farmers hope those fears don't dampen interest in a livestock show this weekend at the Jackson County Expo.

"Pigs get a bad rap anyway," said Melissa Weast, who helps raise the "Wild Weast Show Pigs" along with her three children in Central Point.

Weast said it is unfortunate the disease is referred to as "swine flu" because it might make some people unnecessarily worried about coming in contact with pigs.

Weast said local hog farmers, particularly 4-H and Future Farmers of America members, spend a lot of time keeping their swine clean, immunized and well-fed.

"People think they are dirty, stinky animals," said Weast, 44.

"They are only as stinky as their owners will allow them to be. You would be surprised at the painstaking measures breeders take."

This weekend, Weast and her three children will join other families from Oregon, Northern California and other regions at the Jackson County Fairgrounds and Exposition Park in Central Point for the Southern Oregon Junior Classic.

From 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, steers and lambs will be in the spotlight. From 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday, pampered goats and hogs will be vying in a jackpot show, where the owners can walk away with cash prizes.

Dr. Jim Shames, Jackson County's medical officer, said local residents shouldn't be worried that contact with swine might increase their chance of getting swine flu.

"It doesn't mean your average pig is posing any risk to anyone," he said. "I haven't heard any recommendations that there is any danger from pigs at this point."

Shames said that this particular version of the flu resulted from some as-yet-undetermined interaction between a pig, a human and a bird in Mexico that resulted in a new strain that can be transmitted from human to human. But he said there is nothing to suggest the virus is a problem with pigs in general, particularly pigs in the United States.

"It's become a human virus," he said.

Elizabeth Meadows, swine superintendent for the Jackson County Fair, said most breeders have educated themselves with the latest information on animal husbandry and the swine flu.

Occasionally, however, she has heard people wonder what they should do with their pigs because of the swine flu.

"You don't need to do anything with your pigs," she said.

Still more people have commented to her that the fears about swine have been blown out of proportion.

"People are paying attention," she said.

Meadows said the livestock show gives local children a chance to show off animals they have raised.

So far interest in the event has been good, she said. Meadows expects up to 120 hogs will be entered, 80 beef cattle, 80 lambs and 10 to 20 goats.

Meadows said pigs, humans and birds can all get the flu and she said the normal safeguards such as washing hands after coming in contact with an animal should be exercised.

Preparing pigs for the livestock show this weekend is a time-consuming process for the Weast family, which routinely hoses down the barn and washes the animals.

Most people assume that pigs love to roll around in the mud.

Weast said the animals don't have sweat glands and they will roll in the mud, particularly in hot weather, when there is no other way to cool off. But they would prefer to stay clean, she said.

"They love baths," she said. "They love to be cleaned."

Weast said her children will bring five pigs to the show. She said she is hoping for a good turnout despite the swine flu.

"I just want people to come out and support the kids at the jackpot show," she said.

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 776-4476 or

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